Holiday Ideas & Strategies

What Lies Ahead for the 2019 Holidays? Predictions, Pitfalls, and 14 Expert Opinions to Help Increase Holiday Ecommerce Sales

Corinne Watson / 9 min read

What Lies Ahead for the 2019 Holidays? Predictions, Pitfalls, and 14 Expert Opinions to Help Increase Holiday Ecommerce Sales

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The joyous season of the holidays is accompanied by a number of traditions:

  • Family gatherings,
  • Religious celebrations,
  • Songs and decorations, and
  • Holiday gift-giving.

For some, the holiday season is seen as a nostalgic respite from the rest of the busy and bustling year.

For those in the retail industry, the holidays are a pressure-filled, make-or-break opportunity to close out the year with increased revenue.

During the holiday season, customers shop both online and offline. Last year, U.S. customers purchased more than $123 billion worth of merchandise online and $874 billion in offline spending. Combining to just shy of $1 trillion — with the heaviest amount ($7.87 billion) being on Cyber Monday — makes the holiday season the most important time period for plenty of global retailers.

us-retail-holiday-ecommerce-sales

$123.39 billion dollars were spent online during the holiday season in 2018. Source: Statista

In an era of rising customer demands and customer acquisition costs, both in-person and online retail brands must find ways to exceed expectations and win the hearts of customers.

At the same time, shoppers are getting smarter. They expect more from their shopping experience, and they know how to discern between quality products.

Trends around sustainability and quality are front-of-mind for Gen Z and Millennial shoppers who continue to rise into more purchasing power.

Advancing technology in voice shopping, AI-influenced browsing and machine learning all make it easier for customers to shop wherever they want, in the way that they want.

14 Industry Experts Share The Leading 2019 U.S. Holiday Season Trends

Lower unemployment sets consumers up for a good shopping experience during the holidays. Their wallets are ready — how about your ecommerce store?

We sat down with 14 industry experts to ask them what their predictions are for the 2019 holiday season. Take a peek and discover if there are any ideas you should bake in to your holiday marketing strategy.

1. Unique, experience-driven commerce will drive more conversions.

You’ve heard it before — but innovative brands are constantly trying to connect with customers both online and offline. Creating an experience around your product helps customers remember your brand and return for more purchases.

“Around the holidays, consumers are looking for a bit more “magic,” when it comes to their experience, so offering an unusual and different experience will engage an audience. Whether it’s a pop-up shop for a digitally native brand or an AR experience through a phone and a physical product, I think we’ll see some cross-over in some holiday campaigns.” — Tessa Wuertz, Director of Marketing, Efelle Creative

So what exactly is “creating an experience”?

For some brands, it’s all about in-person activations in brick-and-mortar stores — like how retail concept Showfields in New York brings direct-to-consumer brands together in a museum-like shopping space.

showfields nyc

Image source: Business Insider

Another example of experience-driven commerce is the “pop-up” — where brands set up a temporary store where their products are available for a limited time.

“I think we’re going to see more brick and mortar pop-up stores for DTC (direct-to-consumer) brands especially. It’ll help them build in-person connections with customers while introducing them to brand new buyers, all while spurring purchases that happen when shoppers can touch and see products in real life.” — Kaleigh Moore, Writer on retail and e-commerce at KaleighMoore.com

2. Brands will find more ways to personalize the shopper experience.

Every step in the buyer journey leading up to a transaction can be recorded and marketing efforts can be tailored depending on where a shopper ends up.

For example, using page journey tracking through a CRO tool like Optimizely or CrazyEgg, brands can see exactly where a customer’s cursor is before they abandon a page. From there, they can make recommendations — decrease page length, add a CTA, add an exit-intent popup, etc.

Now, customizations can be done at the shopper-level — as broadly or as personalized as you’d like. Different pages can show different information depending on what products a user has previously browsed, what content they’ve interacted, what they’ve seen in third-party advertisements, and more.

“Many brands have been collecting details about purchases and people without knowing what to do with them. This year, all that information can help brands customize the experience for their customers and prospects. Way beyond inserting someone’s name in an email, expect to see more focused product/service recommendations, customized emotional appeals, and time/labor-saving offers like drop ship with personalized greetings.” — Mike Wittenstein, Founder + Managing Partner, StoryMiners

The perks of personalization have also found a way into the product experience. Consumers are now able to curate more thoughtful gifts via customization, a product feature that is expected to increase in popularity over the years.

“Personalizing products is a growing trend — and is a good way for a product to be special to a customer — which can drive higher engagement and AOV, compared to a race to the bottom on price.” — Keith Karlick, Principal + Head of Strategy, Mercutio

Having a fun interface that allows users to customize a product online is a clever and memorable way to delight customers.

bon bon bon builder example

The BonBon Builder from BonBonBon lets customers select the perfect tasty treats for a gift box. 

3. Retailers will get smarter about online/offline connectivity.

Just several years ago, it was almost impossible to study a multi-touch customer journey. If a shopper interacted with your brand on social media before hopping into a brick-and-mortar store, you’d have no way to identify that touchpoint and make marketing decisions based off of it.

Now, online-to-offline tracking tools have changed that — and you bet brands will use that within their holiday strategies, where roughly two-thirds of purchases are done in physical stores.

“Simply stated, online-to-offline tracking shows you who saw and/or clicked your Facebook or Instagram ad, and then made a purchase in-store. If you have the technical abilities, staffing bandwidth, and discretionary time to execute online conversion tracking in-house, it will work. With physical store locations becoming more attractive to up-and-coming retailers, your brand is now able to connect its online marketing efforts to measurable offline results. Whether you do it yourself or hire a marketing partner to help, you can track and optimize your marketing spend better than ever.” — Scott Ginsberg, Head of Content, Metric Digital

In addition, options for customers to buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) will be table-stakes for brick-and-mortar retailers. Customers expect an easy shopping experience that saves them time, so they can beat the holiday crowds and get back to celebrating.

For the post-holiday rush, brands will need to allow customers to buy online and return in-store (BORIS).

4. Targeted campaigns will be favored over a one-size-fits-all approach.

Once ecommerce emerged as an alternative to brick-and-mortar shopping, brands quickly attempted to reach as many customers as possible with marketing tactics like direct mail, email marketing, and paid advertising.

Once budgets got leaner and customers got smarter, brands turned to using less general campaigns and more tailored approaches — and technology made that easier.

In the 2019 holiday season, expect brands to double down on tailored and target approaches to their customers through every facet of marketing.

“I hope that brands will highly segment and target their campaigns this year. The temptation is to spray and pray, but due to slim margins driven by holiday discounting, campaign ROIs are compressed, meaning you need to make every marketing dollar count!” — Jason Greenwood, Founder, Greenwood Consulting

5. Brands will need to meet higher customer service expectations.

Savvy shoppers know the ins and outs of online browsing, but sometimes they have questions — especially during the holiday season:

  • When will this be shipped out?
  • Where is my order?
  • Will it get here in time for the holidays?
  • Is there a promo code?

They expect answers to these questions quickly, and in the format they prefer: email, phone, text, social media message, or chatbot.

Having multiple forms of customer communication is pivotal for any business that expects a surge of traffic during the holidays.

Customer may have questions about holiday shipping. If you sell and ship internationally, beware of time zone differences — no one wants to wait five hours to get a response from a customer service representative who is across the globe.

On-demand chatbots help to solve this problem, according to Davd Feng, co-founder at Re:amaze.

“Chatbots and automated messaging will be the bread and butter of holiday campaigns this year. Chatbots work around the clock and can help you assist customers in finding the products they’re looking for.”

Since more stores are moving online month over month, it makes sense that digital interactions will subsidize the in-person customer service experience during the holidays.

“As brick-and-mortar stores have been replaced with online shops, customer service has been replaced with chatbots. Customer service will no longer be driven by someone behind a keyboard; questions and support will be handled by automated workflows.” — Chelsey Dewitt, Marketing Strategist, DigitlHaus Agency

6. Smart retail partnerships will help brands stand out.

One of the common dialects of marketing is that it takes more time to acquire a new customer than to get a repeat one — and the same is true for brands who work with each other to create a mutual audience.

“I think we will see brands start to find innovative ways to partner with other brands. Rising acquisition costs are going to force brands to come up with creative ways of reaching new customers through organic channels.” — Ryan Shaw, Director of Growth Marketing, Shogun

If Brand X and Brand Z both have a collection of shoppers who enjoy their products, and their products work well together (wine and chocolate, for example), then it makes sense to combine forces and co-market for the holidays.

“I think relationships and cross-promoting in others’ email lists will be big this year. If you have any relationships where you can leverage others’ customer lists and do cross-promotions, you should definitely take advantage.” — Duran Inci, CEO, Optimum7

This could mean anything from a simple email drop described above, through to a clever collaboration through a pop-up experience, like Disney’s announcement to launch mini stores throughout Target locations in August of 2019.

disney store image

Image courtesy Adweek

7. Brands not using video will already be behind the curve.

The rise of digitally fluent shoppers is pushing traditional outreach methods to the back-burner, according to a recent study by Hubspot Research. In early 2018, 72% of customers preferred video over text advertisements.

Coresight estimates a 29% compound annual growth rate for consumer Internet video from 2017 to 2021.

Brands are rapidly making the move to YouTube and IGTV advertising — and it’s safe to say that video advertising will become even more popular during the 2019 holiday season.

“I think videos will be a big part of this year’s holiday campaigns, and brands will also use platforms like IGTV and Instagram Live to share promotional videos. Videos are on their way to becoming the most popular content type, and they are the most engaging one as well. Marketers realize this and, therefore, you will see a lot of brands using videos for their holiday campaigns.” — Shane Barker, Founder, https://shanebarker.com/

“Video and AI are going to be used more and more throughout marketing campaigns. The ability to utilize these resources is becoming more readily available now more than ever with the advances in technology and the results are worth the investment.” — Julie Causseaux, eCommerce Strategist, Revenue River

8. The anti-consumerist and sustainability movements will continue to grab headlines.

Gen Z values sustainability, and as they come into purchasing power and spend more money during the holidays, brands will need to react to connect with customers in an era where consumerism is often seen as a negative.

REI piloted the “anti-advertising advertisement” in 2015 with their Opt Outside campaign, urging customers to spend time with loved ones instead of shopping on Black Friday.

Since then, numerous brands in the beauty, health, and recreation industries have used alternative campaigns to connect with eco-minded consumers.

In recent years, other brands like Everlane and Reformation have gone a step further to announce plastic free initiatives, and we should expect other retailers to follow suit.

A number of current ecommerce trends have a direct impact on the environment:

  • 1- and 2-day shipping,
  • Packaging waste,
  • Rising return volume,
  • And more.

Now that headlines are surfacing around the amount of waste that is involved in ecommerce business, it makes sense for companies to take a stance.

“From a digital marketing perspective, I think more brands are starting to pick up on the fact that consumers simply burn out on holiday advertising campaigns.Following in the footsteps of brands like REI and Patagonia, I think more brands will encourage individual consumers to focus their time and attention elsewhere in order to reduce their holiday stress; a subtle but effective way to build more trust between the consumer and the brand. How effective has REI’s #OptOutside campaign been over the past four years? I think this rebellious attitude (ironically fueled by the brands themselves) will pick up steam this year.” — Connor Griffith, eCommerce Marketing Strategist, Revenue River

9. Reviews will continue to make or break sales.

It comes as no surprise that reviews are an important part of ecommerce marketing.

After all — 91% of customers read reviews while browsing for products.

There are two customer satisfaction red-flags for modern-day consumers:

  1. If a brand doesn’t have reviews up on their products, or
  2. If the product review sections are empty.

Thankfully, a number of technologies are available to help easily add review sections into ecommerce websites, and you can easily ask for reviews through any of your marketing channels (email, website, SMS, etc.).

“To make it easier for consumers to quickly find information about products of interest, companies will do a better job to digitally curate the reviews of those who test and review and produce a “collection” of informative reviews that can be easily scanned. With one click, a consumer will be able to read a number of reviews by product and gear testers for that particular product or category.” — Ron Smith, The Digital Outdoorsman

2019 Holiday Season Trends For the UK

While 25% of adults in the U.S. purchase something online once a month, holiday retail success isn’t limited to the U.S.:

A typical UK household spends over £500 more in December compared to other months.

holiday season trends for uk

UK residents more than double their spending on toiletries, computers, books, music, and DVDs during the holidays. Source: Bank of England

1. Steady purchase rates.

Fueled by low unemployment, low inflation, and strong wage growth in the UK, total holiday sales jumped 4.7% to reach £98.06 billion in 2018. The number is predicted to increase for 2019, despite warnings of Brexit and economic uncertainty.

2. More holidays and experiences.

A growing number of UK shoppers opt to travel for the holidays — so you can expect an increase in experience-driven purchases like flight tickets, tours, and other leisurely activities.

3. Black Friday remains popular despite the lack of Thanksgiving.

UK shoppers use Black Friday as an opportunity to shop online, and because there is not a physical Thanksgiving holiday, stores are less inclined to offer brick-and-mortar sales. This increases the amount of time spent browsing and purchasing online.

4. Brands will continue to discount and advertise more.

In 2018, UK brands discounted their products by, on average, 0.4% more. In addition, a 2019 survey from Criteo showed that 41% of UK retailers planned on advertising more during the holidays.

2019 Holiday Season Trends For Australia and New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand shoppers continue to embrace growing holiday trends from the UK and U.S.

1. Cyber Week will continue to grow in popularity…

In 2018, revenue grew faster over Cyber Week than Boxing Day or Christmas. In the Australia Post’s 2019 Ecommerce Industry Report, Australia Post found that last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping period was the biggest online shopping week in Australia’s history.

2. While local holidays will continue to grow as well.

Boxing Day discount rates in Australia and New Zealand rose 18% YOY.

3. Click Frenzy — Australia’s Cyber Monday — will remain popular.

Click Frenzy, the online marketplace holiday boasting deals like $60 airfare and $5 computer games — reportedly attracted 78.25 million visits to shopping and classified sites during its flash sale in 2017. Announcements leading up to the 2019 holidays show that it may be another success this year.

4. Australian shoppers are inclined to discounts.

Just like global consumers, Australian and New Zealand customers will continue to be incentivized by discounts during the holidays. A 2019 PayPal survey of 1,000 Australian shoppers found that seven out of ten shoppers actively seek out online sales or discounts, while 50% have waited until an item was on sale before buying it online.

Conclusion

Making sure you have all of your campaigns and logistics planned in advance of the holidays will prepare your brand for greater success.

Failing to get all of your ducks in a row may cause you to lose out on real game-changing revenue from holiday ecommerce sales.

By planning earlier, bringing in all stakeholders, and taking a look at these new approaches, brands can easily succeed at any holiday revenue goal.

Want more insights like this?

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    Corinne Watson

    Corinne Watson

    Corinne is a writer and researcher at BigCommerce, where she works directly with agency and technology partners to bring their tools, services and ideas to the commerce industry at large. Before BigCommerce, she was an education specialist at Skills Fund, where she built resources and ran trainings to give students access to life-changing skills. Corinne holds degrees in graphic design and psychology. After college, she transitioned into the marketing and research space through a self-taught mindset – and works to bring the value of that skill and mindset to others. When she’s not writing, she’s volunteering with nonprofit organizations, traveling the world, or digging into a new book.

    View all posts by Corinne Watson

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